I was driving home after attending our city’s Homeless Coalition meeting, thinking about a young family I had helped get housing. I remembered years back, while in graduate school for social work, we were given an assignment where we had to write about how our family of origin shaped our values, beliefs and opinions; and how this affected our work.
Being from a large Italian, Catholic family and being what my kids call “old school,” I have really come to appreciate all that that means. I began reflecting on what being “old school” means, and how I probably thought my parents were “old school” as well. I thought about another Thanksgiving approaching and how so many have come and gone. I thought about many Thanksgivings at home I’d missed and felt a longing of a time so long gone. I was thinking how time keeps slipping away, and I felt so lucky to have grown up in a time where as Wynona sings “Families really bowed their heads to pray, and daddies really never go away. Grandpa, tell me bout the good old days.”
Grandma and grandpa, or Nona and Buni as we called them, immigrated from Italy and settled in Pekin, in the early 1920s. Mom and Dad grew up there, married, settled there, and still live in our family home 70 some years later. Waves of memories came, memories of where I came from, and these kind of hearty people — people of stability and tradition — and of a different time.
Memories of cold Midwest winters walking to school, a time when the phone was attached to the wall, when children learned cursive in school, had a paper route and milk bottles were delivered on a back porch. A time before you ever heard of a school shooting, 10-year-olds still believed in Santa Claus, and schools still taught the Star Spangled Banner and the Pledge of Allegiance. A time like in the movie “A Christmas Story,” where kids went down to the local drug store and used to play baseball in 100-degree heat. But more than all that, I became nostalgic, thinking about Thanksgiving; how my parents, Edith and Albino Delmastro, who are now 97 and 94 years old, are the two most important people who influenced my own and 13 other siblings lives; and how I am so very grateful for their gifts of faith, family and tradition.
I reminisced how every Sunday morning all 14 children, dressed in Sunday attire, filed in the pews at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church for Mass. We learned the Ten Commandments, the Gospels, the Sacraments, and a sense of respect and reverence. There was prayer. There was belief in God the Almighty. There were the teachings of Jesus and the saints. But more importantly, there was teaching by example and a belief that charity is taught at home. Charity is the benevolent goodwill toward or love of humanity, and virtue is goodness, righteousness, honor, decency, respectability, nobility and worthiness. There was worship, singing, and teaching of work ethic.
We were a family that worked together and played together. It was common to have six or seven sisters cleaning the kitchen together. One would be washing and another rinsing or drying the dishes, one sweeping, and one washing the tables and stove, all the while singing in harmony together. I was remembering raking together, building snow forts, riding bikes, running through sprinklers, taking rides in the car together, and feeling happy to get a five cent ice cream cone at Dairy Queen.
While it’s true that older siblings may say they have different memories than the younger siblings and there are for sure generational differences, there is still a common thread.
A strong work ethic was modeled by both of our parents. For our mother, there was “no time to be depressed,” and according to our father, there was no ailment that could not be cured by a little more hard work. And if that didn’t work, work harder. As a young child of a World War II veteran, I recall how my dad showed me one afternoon how to polish the legs of the dining room table. When I missed a spot, he said “Put a little elbow grease into it” to make it shine. On another occasion, he handed me the Comet and scrub brush and pulled the floor mats out of our green station wagon, saying “Make those white again.” He gave chores that required patience and attention to detail, chores that built pride in a job well done and a feeling of competence.
This is not to say all siblings had this experience or to discount other sibling’s realities. There was family dysfunction with ours, as it surely occurs in all families.
I remember my dad using phrases like “Waste not, want not” and “Haste makes waste” not understanding what they meant. And now I repeat those same phrases to my kids.
We were blessed with a kind mother and one who, in retrospect, must never have slept. There was no such thing as having a “pity party” as there was work to do. Mom spent hours washing laundry in an old-fashioned washer, where you had to put the clothes through the wringer, soak then in the rinse tub, and then wring them again before hanging them on the line to dry. Laundry, cooking and babies took all of her time. There was no sleeping in. There was no getting her nails done. There were no friends texting her all day or outings for lattes. There were sacrifices and more of the same. The little children came first. I never saw my mother serve herself dinner first or even sit down for a full meal. And The “Bless Us Oh Lord” prayer was always said before each meal. She loved little children and said she always wanted a big family.
And I continued to reflect on how our parents truly embody our family name and names.
My father was born on August 25, 1921. The name DelMasto in Italian means “teacher”, literally, of or belonging to the scholar, teacher or craftsman. And this is true for my mother as well. Edith Elva Simoncini was born March 7, 1924. The name Simoncini means “God has listened” referring to the gratitude of the parents who, having wished for a child, had their prayers answered.
As a social worker, on a daily basis I see so many young families struggling not just financially but emotionally and spiritually. They struggle to find mentors or the parents they never had. They struggle to find meaning and, sometimes, reason to live.
I felt an overwhelming gratitude to my parents who have given me so much. Although I have told them “Thank you” before, over the years, I wanted to tell them again, to say “Thank you” for all they have sacrificed over so many years.
I recalled my dad’s wish to have all of his children home again, to have a dinner with just the children and he and mom. He had expressed this some years back before we lost our dear sister, Andrea. Due to time and distance, it never happened. I was compelled to make a proposal to my now 12 siblings to make our father’s wish come true. So I sent out a proposal for a one-time, urgent request that is time sensitive. I requested ALL 12 siblings come home for what may be our last “family supper” this Thanksgiving. It will be the first time we have sat at the table for a family supper together in 40-plus years. I have asked that each lay their differences aside and remember we are family. They all agreed. They will travel from California, Texas, Kansas, Missouri, Washington, Michigan, and the farthest, from Australia to make my father’s wish come true.
And while this short narrative is not reflective of what the other 12 siblings may have written, I think they would all agree and express gratitude for faith, family and tradition. No matter our differences, As we say in Italian: Sempre Famiglia, or “Forever family.”
In keeping with Delmastro tradition, I will continue promoting those Christian values that promote love and family. I hope somehow this inspires other families to do the same. Sempre Famiglia! And Happy Thanksgiving!